Archive for July 2014

5th Edition: The Uninspired Bard

3rd Edition's bard was a big bag of poorly designed suck: your attack bonus was too low to make you a competent fighter, your hit points were on par with a rogue (whom you also had fewer skill points than), and your spellcasting was, well, to put it nicely inadequate.

Some mistakenly labeled is as a "jack of all trades", claiming that it could fill in for a variety of jobs, but the reality was that it fell far short of a master in any capacity. Well, aside from rolling Perform and maybe Diplomacy checks.

I played with a variety of bard players in my 3rd Edition days, and they were either jokes, liabilities, or both. In one campaign we had a gnome bard that started with a negative modifier to his attacks, and he could heal all of 2 hit points per day.

Yeah, his utter ineptitude was funny for a time, but then it quickly became old hat, the campaign mercifully puttered out around 6th-level, and he never played a bard again.

The only other memorable campaign with a bard managed to reach 14th-level before we stopped. Like the previous bard she started out as a joke that almost died frequently, rarely hit anything, and ran out of magic constantly. I think she only lasted as long as she did because we had a party of five, maybe six people, and I did not bother to adjust the monster difficulty because I had heard that Age of Worms was pretty hard, particularly in the early adventures.

4th Edition shook things up by making the bard actually competent and useful in a variety of situations from the get-go, whether you are talking about social interaction, exploration, or combat. Your attack bonus was just behind that of a fighter (who was actually ahead of the curve), you were not at risk of randomly dying from a lucky, non-critical strike, you could mix up melee and magic with ease, you did not ever completely run out of magic, you were just as good as supporting the party as a cleric (but did so in your own way), and you could multiclass as much as you wanted to.

I do not know why it took the game over 30 years to crank out a decent bard, but at least we finally had one that I—any many others in my group—actually wanted to play as something other than a joke, experiment, or just out of plain boredom.

But why am I talking about bards today, and what does this have to do with 5th Edition?

A few pages of the 5th Edition bard were showcased several days ago, and a week or so before that a couple of my friends both sent me a, I guess "leaked" alpha pdf of the Player's Handbook (in the same day, even). It looks quite a bit different from the last public playtest packet, and the only real difference from the previewed pages—aside from some class features being ordered differently at the same level—is that the hit die got bumped up from a d6 to a d8, so I am inclined to believe that it is at least for the most part accurate.

So, how much did 5th Edition fuck it up? Surprise surprise, it actually did not. Well, from a purely mechanical perspective, at any rate. Do not get me wrong, the designers certainly did not exert any particular effort in making it inspiring (which is ironic, I know) or much more flexible, but if you are merely analyzing it for the mechanics and math then it seems much more solid and useful than it was in 3rd Edition:

  • Everything for no discernible reason uses a universal proficiency bonus, so the bard is on par with everyone else in the game when it comes to attacking things.
  • It uses a d8 for hit points, which puts it just behind the fighter.
  • You do not start out knowing many spells, but you can use as many as every other class in a daily period, and you also get cantrips and rituals, so if you are building to heal then I guess you are about as competent as a cleric.
  • The bonuses for armor make the heavy shit essentially pointless: as long as you keep upping your Dexterity you'll be a bit behind shield-bearing fighters at a fraction of the cost (sidenote: I love how the costs for armor are obviously, blatantly trying to keep it "balanced" instead of going with anything approaching reason).

However despite evening out the numbers it is still utter shit, because at its core that is all that is: a bunch of predictable math and numbers with little to no narrative backing, and this extends beyond spellcasting. I will get to the spells in a bit, but I want to talk about the other nonsense class features that were clearly designed without any concern as to how they would be explained "in-character", or even in the narrative at all.

First up, Bardic Inspiration. You can use this as a bonus action on your turn to let someone add a d6 to a d20 roll they make. I am not sure what a bonus action is, but a round is about 6 seconds, during which you can move and attack only once for some reason (balance, I guess). Basically during this six second span you can attack, run 30 feet, and still have enough time to deliver some stirring words or play a mad solo on your lute, such that one person, and only one person, gets to do one thing better of their choosing.

That is not even the silliest part. No, that goes to the fact that you can apparently only inspire someone a number of times per day equal to your Charisma modifier. How is that even reflected in the game's narrative? It does not mention it being magical, not that that would make any more goddamn sense, but at least it would be consistent with the rest of the nonsense magic. Do your friends just become numb to your words and music until they sleep it off?

At 5th-level you can regain set amounts of inspiration when you rest for an hour (or however the hell long a short rest is nowadays), which in other words means that at a certain point you can just inspire people as many times a day as you like, you just have to sit down for a while or not inspire people too frequently.

Anyway, I thought that was hilariously lazy on the designer's part. It is pretty obvious that they wanted to maintain a specific brand of game balance, which was not hard given that some people are not only satisfied with boring ass, nonsense, recycled material, but occasionally view it as something to be celebrated, something that not anyone doing their own 3rd Edition hack could have dredged up in well under a two-year span.

Next up, Bard College. Rather than enable any kind of flexibility or organic growth, at 2nd- or 3rd-level you get to make a choice. This choice gives you a class feature immediately, and locks in a bunch more down the road. The degree and reason that this "sub-class" system fails—aside from being just about the laziest way you could do a class-based system—varies from class to class, but for the bard it is the fact that you apparently "join" a college at 3rd-level, whether or not you have even been to one, and after that point you are locked in for the rest of the game.

Let us say that at 3rd-level you somehow join the College of Lore. You gain more skills and for some reason can only make fun of a monster and inspire your allies x times per day in total. Now even if you start wearing armor, wielding a big-ass sword, and train with a fighter for months, at 6th-level you just learn more spells, instead of getting the extra attack that a bard with the College of Valor would get. Riiight, makes about as much sense as the magic.

On a similar note is Magical Secrets, which is a 10th-level class feature that lets you snag two spells from any class you want. Every bard gets this when the designers felt that it was okay, no matter what, and always at the same level. I am not a fan of arbitrarily doling out class features: I think that it is far more interesting if a bard can choose this instead of something else, or just do it after researching a spell for a period of time. I mean, it does not give the bard more spells in a day, just more to choose from.

If a bard can only ever do this at levels 10, 14, and 18, why? Why can she never ever ever do it before, between, or after those levels?

Finally, spellcasting! People complained that the classes in 4th Edition were "too samey" because most of them used the same resource management model. They outright ignored the descriptive text and what classes could actually do, constantly trying to find corner-cases and deliberately misinterpreting what certain effect did, because despite many games doing the sensible thing of resolving conflicts with the same mechanics, they arbitrarily declared that if spells and swords roll the same way, then both must be magic.

Yet, they seem to be perfectly fine with a cleric, paladin, wizard, bard, etc all using the exact same system for managing magical resources, whether or not it makes any sense in the game's narrative. Frankly, magic in Dungeons & Dragons has never made any sense (and at this point I suspect it never will), and that seems to be all the justification the designers needed to just not even try to deliver something evocative and engaging. Well, that and the needless adherence to pointless traditions (which is why we again have Hit Dice, backwards conflict resolution mechanics, and other antiquated conventions).

I mean, when you think about a bard casting spells, what do you envision? Is it a bard instantly spouting out a few magical effects in a fraction of a minute, only to look at the party and say "Whelp, I'm out until I take a nap" (for that matter, I cannot envision a cleric, wizard, paladin, druid, etc doing the same thing). Actually, that is not entirely accurate: the bard would instead say, sorry guys, I can keep casting these other spells all day without any trouble, but those other two? Yeah, I cannot use those until I take a nap...unless they are rituals, then I can take a long time to cast them as many times as I want. Make sense?

No, of course it doesn't make any fucking sense.

I do notenvision a bard throwing out a magical effect in a few seconds, and with a few exceptions I certainly do not imagine her doing so in the middle of combat. The idea of someone prancing about, playing a flute while orcs chase her about with axes sounds unbelievably retarded. But, that is how Dungeons & Dragons did it before, and we all know that that is what 5th Edition is about: changing the game just enough to justify re-buying all the books you already own (ie, the Paizo method), but not so much so as to displease the grognards that fear change and frown upon people playing the game the "wrong" way.

I imagine a bard gradually building up a magical effect, unleashing it as her song reaches a crescendo to call forth a storm or destroy a bridge, or just allowing it to subtly settle on an area, causing creatures to fall to asleep or at least become groggy or distracted. I see the bard having limited access to the more immediate, overt magic, like deafening, destructive screams: she is more subtle, humming or singing to herself while she peruses books, ponders a puzzle, or works on something, creating a kind of tempo that keeps her and everyone around her focused and active. She does not cast comprehend languages to instantly, absolutely translate a text, but goes through her mental catalog of stories and legends to try and suss out a general meaning.

Even healing people is not something I see a bard routinely doing, at least not quickly and after blurting out three seconds of a song, like watching a YouTube video on a bad internet connection. I see her building up everyone's spirit when they make camp, granting her allies increased healing, or maybe a bonus to shaking off a persistent injury, curse, disease, or poison (which sounds like the Song of Rest class feature, which debuted in 4th Edition, which probably explains why it is a good thing). I see her entertaining a crowd at a tavern, allowing her to acquire a kind of "plot currency" that she can spend to get people to open up to her or do favors.

I do not believe that 3rd Edition's bard was the best possible representation of the class. I do not even think that 4th Edition was the best (it still had nonsense magic, after all), which is why I do not think discarding most of 4th Edition and mashing the leftovers together is something worthy of acclaim or even note. It is the bare minimum. Actually, no, for a major company with two years of "development", it is less than the bare minimum.

It is disappointing and uninspired.

Dungeon World: Witches & Warriors

  • Augustine (5th-level human paladin)
  • Jaya (5th-level human bard)
  • Mouse (5th-level gnome thief)

Augustine could not see the soldiers, but thanks to the burning brazier he could at least see their shadows. They were trying to hedge him in so as to keep him away from Shorna, who had shuffled back inside her magic circle and continued chanting.

He was still backing away and considering his options when Mark returned to the deck, followed by one of his men and, more importantly, a pair of trolls that were casually rampaging their way through the floor as they pursued them. They
made it inside Shorna's magic circle just in time for her to raise an invisible barrier, which to Augustine's dismay was strong enough to repel even their combined strength.

Below deck Jaya had pointed out the centaur's remains to the troll that had just hurled his friend through a wall. Despite both her sword and the pegasus's hooves having only a fleeting impact on its skull it relented, effortlessly tearing the cell apart and proceeding to noisily and gruesomely devour its corpse. With the troll momentarily distracted, she started leading the pegasus to one of the holes that had been punched into the ship so that they could escape before it finished.

The ship suddenly shook with a familiar tremor, as the third ship in the arena smashed into the other side. The impact flung Mouse through the air and into one of the sails on Mark's barge. He punched a hole in it with his dagger, slicing it open as he descended towards the deck. Once he was a safe distance he released himself, falling onto the back of a troll. It was slippier than expected, so he drove his dagger into its head to prevent himself from sliding off.

Unfortunately for Jaya the other troll had survived the fall, and by the time she had regained her footing from the impact it had made its way back up and into the hull. Luckily, rather than rend her limb from limb, it lumbered past her and began to what she could only assume was yelling at the other troll. They roared at each other for a bit, before the one eating the centaur drove what was left of one of its leg into the other one's skull. While this seemed to keep it down, the other one was now out of centaur.

As she is wont to do, Jaya blew a series of high-pitched notes on her flute, deafening both herself and the intended recipient. Even so, she was able to hop on the pegasus and get away while it clutched its head and bellowed in agony.

Mouse scampered across the deck towards Augustine. One of the trolls had given up on the barrier and decided to go with the smaller, more immediate and delicious threat. Mouse was fast, but the troll was plenty strong and more than capable of, say, tearing chunks of the ship's rail off and hurling them. Though he was able to dodge their impromptu ordnance he slipped on what he hoped was just swamp troll slime, and before he was able to regain his feet one of the trolls was standing over him.

Augustine came thundering across the deck. To the surprise of both himself and the soldiers he had cleanly skewered one of them, and was using it as a kind of shield to keep the others at bay. He swung the halberd about, flinging the invisible corpse away, and caught the troll's club with it. He felt his teeth rattle from the impact, and the troll's own shock gave Mouse more than enough time to drive his short sword into a part of the troll that, more than most places, made it very grateful to have regeneration.

It's pained howl was slightly higher than usual, attracting the attention of the other troll. It quickly recovered, and as they both loomed over Augustine Jaya's owl swooped in. It scratched at their faces, easily evading their clumsy attempts to catch it. Though ultimately harmless it was still distracting, which gave Mouse enough time to hurl a vial of serpent's tears into one of their mouths. High overhead Jaya could clearly see that Augustine had taken a beating, but when she tried weaving a healing song one of the trolls hurled a thick plank of ship deck at her. It struck one of the pegasus's wings, and they both went spiraling down.

Gripping his throwing blade, Mouse maneuvered onto the ship's rail to get some distance and a clear shot. He struck one in the eye, and it staggered back, clawing painfully at its face. The other tried to pelt Mouse off the ship's railing with a chunk of deck, but Augustine swung his halberd in a wide arc, striking its skull. Mouse's poison had weakened its stony flesh: it easily cleaved through, and the troll crumbled apart into a cloud of chalky powder.

The troll Mouse blinded had yanked the throwing blade free, and he could see that it's eye was rapidly growing back. It grabbed the railing that Mouse was perched on and gave it a powerful pull. It had intended to dislodge Mouse, but the railing snapped towards it, propelling the gnome toward its face. Mouse twisted in the air, using the force to drive his sword deep into the troll's not-quite-empty eye socket. The momentum carried him up and over the troll's head, splitting the top half of it open as he sailed past.

Mouse landed on the deck with a hard thud, but when he collected himself was promptly knocked back over by a shadowy, wolf-like creature with black, mangy fur. It tore into his flesh, and he felt the spirits within the wolf belt take over, involuntarily transforming him. They both circled about each other, but before either struck the wolf demanded that Mouse release the trapped spirits. Mouse pointed out the witch, explaining that she was the one responsible for making them. If he agreed to help kill her, then he would destroy the belt immediately.

The wolf agreed, and with some mental effort Mouse was able to revert back, remove the belt, and sever the it. Dark, howling wisps flowed from the tattered belt into the wolf. Its fur became thicker and fuller, and its size noticeably increased. The wolf thanked Mouse, and true to its word turned its attention to the witch.

Jaya had given the pegasus a quick "tune up", and was flipping through the book she had found below deck. Unfortunately all she could find were formulas for potions and poisons, and nothing about easily breaking through magical spirit barriers. She was not sure if her magic would penetrate it, but figured it could not hurt to try: she weaved an illusion around Mark, and was relieved when he blinked a few times, then drew his sword and started walking towards Shorna.

The soldier that had followed Mark tried to stop him. Mark knocked him aside with a strike of his gauntleted fist, telling him to stay down, but before he could drive his sword through Shorna the soldier tackled him to the ground, pleading for him to stop. Jaya saw Shorna ready the dagger above a red-haired poppet, and when it was clear that neither of the men inside were going to get the upper hand anytime soon, used the last of the powder that the dusky king had used to restore his magic.

There was a momentary shimmer in the air, but nothing overtly indicating that the barrier was gone. Shorna brought the dagger down, but right before it stabbed the poppet something unseen slammed into her, sending her sprawling to the ground and the dagger clattering away. At this Mark, seething with anger, kicked the soldier away, and retrieved his sword. It crackled with violent energies as he brought it down, silencing the soldier's cries for mercy.

The wolf leaped in, sinking his fangs into Shorna's throat and carrying her away. As Mark spared her a glance Jaya began playing her flute, a rapid series of notes causing Mouse's sword to hum. Mouse dashed towards Mark, but he moved with surprising speed and skill, easily swatting him aside with the force of the blow. When Mouse did not get up he strode towards Augustine and Jaya, arrogantly stating that he was the legitimate heir of Hell's Arch, and that once he killed them, "Fiona's lackeys", everyone would have to bow to him.

The blade again crackled with energy as he swung it at Augustine, who barely caught it with the haft of his halberd, and began shrieking demands that he acknowledge his claim. Jaya used her magic to enhance Augustine's—and thankfully only Augustine's—halberd. Augustine shoved Mark back and took a swipe, but he was far more skilled than he anticipated and evaded the brunt of the attack. Augustine was thrown off balance, and with a smug, toothy sneer Mark hefted his sword above his head, preparing to finish off Augustine.

His eyes suddenly went wide and blood began to trickling from his mouth. He coughed, and his grip loosed on his sword as he let it drop to the ground. He reached behind himself, and when his hand came back Augustine could see that it was coated in blood. He stared at his hand in disbelief, as if he was genuinely confused as to what or how this had happened, and then fell to his knees. His expression changed to one of anger, then fear, before he finally collapsed.

Mouse was standing behind him, shirt stained with blood and holding a bloody dagger.

"That ought to shut him up."

Behind the Scenes
I think we're almost done with this campaign: maybe another 3-4 sessions left. We wanted to do podcasts/Hangouts on Air with this campaign, but had a baby on board, which made it difficult for Melissa to cut the audio. Once Melissa and I move that won't be a problem however, which means that we can also start from the beginning.

So what would you guys want to see/hear next? FATE has been mentioned, but I could also start running a Sundered World game.

Melissa: Is it cut in any way?
David: What is this, a dungeon deli?
Dan: Is there a centaur steak handy?

David: It's the best of both worlds: human and horse. Like a turducken.

Dan: The body will give you two armor.
David: Damn, we need to carry bodies around.

(after David has suggested using the bag of anti-magic dust several times on the barrier)
Melissa: I throw the whole bag at it: screw you, barrier!
Dan: The wavering sort of, heat like interference of the barrier goes down.
Melissa: Oh, the barrier goes down?
David: Mmm *rubs nipples*...let's see here...mmm *rubs nipples* for a new bond Jaya should write a song about me and how my ideas are always awesome.

A Sundered World Update
I have decided to start posting updated pdfs of A Sundered World each week, partially to help build interest, partially to let people know almost precisely what to expect when the Kickstarter launches. You can get the current document here, and here is a current list of additions/changes for this week thus far:

  • Modified the world move for building things out of the astral, and adjusted some Astral Swimmer moves to account for this.
  • Deva: Added the Death domain, as well as a few advanced race moves for it.
  • Elf & Kytheran: Added more racial moves.
  • Most classes have questions that you can ask about them.
  • Battlemind: Changed Learned background, added miss effect to Psionic Focus, added/changes some moves (Reforge Flesh lets you spend focus to heal/shape weapons on others, added Biomagnetics).
  • Invoker: Added advanced moves: Be Afraid, Suffer No Evil, Your Will Be Done..., ...Your Kingdom Come, Be Very Afraid, Celestial Choir.
  • Shaman: Added Kindred Spirit background. Tweaked some other moves.
  • Chronomancer: Added moves: Time Compression, Temporal Acceleration, Time Stop, Warp Field
  • Lingering Soul & Possessed: Started adding moves.
  • Equipment: Added tags to go along with madiron, sinsteel, staff focus. Added vial of astral stuff, copper arm, starwater, poison, thoughtroot implant, ironwood enthollow, frostbone jotuncase, etc.
  • Fleshed out the Running Out of Time campaign front.
July 30, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

A Sundered World: A Big-Ass Preview

Interested in A Sundered World? Want to see some 240 pages of what I got so far for the Dungeon World version? I am going to make it a point to post an updated version each week just to let people know where I am, as well as to gather as much feedback as possible before it goes to Kickstarter.

I tried to clean the doc up, but there are a lot of blank spaces (cast, places, location moves, impressions, etc), moves that could stand for refinement (the Arsenal chapter is cluttered with stuff that I am trying to organize and flesh out), and possibly some text that I pulled from somewhere else to serve as a placeholder.

Check it out and let me know everything: what you like, what you hate, any suggestions, and questions (because there is probably some information that I take for granted and either leave out or not explain very well). If you see a blank spot, then I did not get to that part, yet.

You can post comments here, on the pdf, or hit me up on G+ (especially the Sundered World community).

Thanks in advance! This thing is almost ready to go.

Fright Night: Alpha Release

Back in April I posted a play report for Fright Night, a game that Ben, Melissa, and I were working on. The game is intended to evoke the feel of horror movies, character generation is a breeze, the mechanics are simple, and both the "monster" and a lot of the story is randomly generated on the fly (meaning that even the Director does not know exactly what will happen).

We have since played a number of games, tried to play a number more, and had a few other groups also give it a shot, and though the game is not yet complete (we want to add more examples and some flavorful text here and there to help better set the tone), we feel that it is far enough along for other people to take a look at it and let us know what they think so far.

So, do that. Read it, tell me what you like and dislike in the comments. If you actually play a game we would love to hear how it went (especially because we have been playing with an in-depth knowledge of how the game is "supposed" to work).

Something that we specifically want to know is if you think creature bases and/or traits should have a mechanical impact (or, at least some of them). Like, should Giant count as a complication when you make a Brawn check against it? Should Bloodthirsty give the monster a +1 bonus to damage? On that note, we also want to know if you think any bases/traits should be added, removed, or shuffled about.
July 22, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Dungeon World: I'm on a Boat

  • Augustine (5th-level human paladin)
  • Jaya (5th-level human bard)
  • Mouse (5th-level gnome thief)

After some discussion it was decided that Augustine and Jaya, respectively "disguised" as Henry's recently slain companions Bernard and Squeak, would accompany him to the boat. Mouse—much to Henry's relief—would keep to the upper corridors, make his way to the skybox above the water arena, and try to find a way to sneak down onto the boat undetected.

The skybox featured numerous uncomfortable-looking stone seats and several wide windows. Mouse started across the room, but stopped when he noticed something glinting at the edge of his torchlight: in the center of the room was a brass hatch, complete with a large, prominent keyhole.

Mouse considered a variety of factors: the time it took him to make it all the way to the skybox, how long Augustine and Jaya would squabble over a needlessly convoluted plan, the age of the lock and whether the mechanisms even functioned, and the potential weight of whatever was inside. He then considered everyone else: there was a lot riding on the line here, what with the Autumn Monarch preparing to attack, it was obvious without his help his companions would get into all sorts of trouble, and it was not like whatever was in the hatch was going anywhere any time soon.

Despite its age, and presumably its importance, Mouse was surprised at just how easy it was to pick. The heavy doors creaked loudly as he pulled them aside, revealing a ladder. Mouse climbed down and found himself in a kind of control room: viewing ports allowed him to see the entirety of the arena, and there were all manner of levels, dials, and buttons surrounding him. Mouse had only a rudimentary understanding of the dwarven language, so most of the characters were unfamiliar to him, which meant that he would have to do some...experimentation to figure out what they did.

Henry lead Augustine and Jaya through a large, open chamber that looked to have been used to store supplies in case of a prolonged siege, and down a ramp towards the edge of the water arena. Given that the place had not been used in who knew how many years Jaya had expected it to smell bad, but it far exceeded both her expectations and her stomach's tolerance. Whatever was stewing in the water, the troglodyte soup she had been forced to eat was appetizing by comparison.

Their destination was a large boat located in the middle of the arena. It was clearly illuminated by several torches and what looked like a large brazier. They climbed into a small boat and Augustine began rowing. It was not until they were well away from shore, surrounded by deep water and darkness that it hit her: trolls. Or, more specifically and ominously, a type of troll that was all too well adapted for water.

Jaya asked Henry if they had ever encountered trolls down here. He looked about worriedly, but claimed that they had never encountered any before, though his tone was less certain and more...trying to convince himself that there were not any. She could not be sure if he was telling the truth, but was unsure why he would risk putting his own life in danger. Before she could press him further the chamber began echoing with the deafening sound of grinding metal as ancient gears slowly stirred to life. After a few minutes the noise lessened somewhat to a more tolerable volume, and the room was suddenly flooded with light.

Henry's eyes widened and his mouth dropped as a massive glowing, golden sphere capped at the end of an equally impressively-sized bronze arm began to slowly drift across the room. Jaya took this as a sign that this was was either something new, or something bad. Given that she was fairly certain as to who was responsible, odds were good that it was a bit of both.

From his vantage point Mouse could see people flocking onto the deck to observe the orb. He saw the boat approach and, assuming it to be his companions, decided to give the lever next to it a pull. A smaller, silvery orb flared to life and begin drifting towards the "sun". To his disappointment its arm was longer, and both were curved in a way so that they could create an artificial eclipse as opposed to a kind of mock celestial collision, but at least this would keep everyone occupied for a while.

Jaya and Augustine made it to the ship and boarded it using a thick rope ladder. Once they were on deck they were immediately confronted by a young man, and the only person not watching the light show. He had short, blonde hair, wore a heavy fur cloak, and carried a sword that looked almost too big for him to wield. He petulantly declared that it was about time they had returned and demanded a report. Their very safe assumption that this must be Mark was confirmed when Henry addressed him as such.

Henry began stammering out an explanation, obviously both fearful of retribution and trying to make sure that his story would not draw much scrutiny. Thankfully the very recent, well, events lent credence to his claims that a "wild, bloodthirsty gnome" was loose in the Deeps, and that it had also bitten off Squeak's (Jaya's) tongue, so of course he would not be able to rely any spoken information.

As he spoke Mark glanced behind himself. A woman with wild, greasy hair was chanting inside a circle that had been scored into the ship's deck, crouched over various arcane accouterments that surrounded her: small piles of various powders, bones, a bowl filled with some strange substance, stones inscribed with symbols, and a few cruelly shaped knives.

Once Henry finished Mark turned to Bernaugustine and asked if he had anything to add. He did his best to confirm the story with as few words and syllables as possible. Mark sighed irritably and then asked if Jayasqueak needed medical attention. She shook her head and made a kind of sound, to which Mark nodded with a mixture of something approaching grudging respect and approval. He turned away and barked out a list of names, and while they stepped forward ordered Henry to go below deck and fetch some invisibility powder.

Henry left and quickly returned with two bags made from black velvet. Mark told them that once they were invisible they would hunt down the gnome and return with it if possible for questioning. If not, kill it and bring the body back to see if Shorna could question its spirit. Before Henry could begin dusting everyone Jayasqeak bit her tongue, and forced some blood out of her mouth for Mark to see. She looked at him, shrugged and tilted her head towards the door leading below deck. His patience all but depleted, he instructed her to go fetch Martin and then patch herself up.

Since she had no idea what the layout of the boat was, Jaya would have to go from room to room and hope for the best. Since she also had no idea who Martin was, she would only have a limited time to figure it out before Mark sent someone down to find out what was taking so long. Henry had not taken long to retrieve the dust, so she started with the closest doors, but it was not until she had checked nearly every room that she found the prison. There were several cages, though due to the limited light could not see what they contained. She made a mental note and continued searching: if she was going to get them out of here, she was going to need invisibility powder.

The last room she ended up checking was the captain's quarters. It was well appointed, though bore signs of obvious age and disrepair: a bed, some chairs, an oak table covered in carvings, and most importantly numerous small chests overflowing with bundles of herbs and bags sewn from various materials. On the table was a book that had been propped open by a dagger that rested across its pages. Since none of the sacks were labeled, she examined it first in the hopes that it was a kind of ledger or catalog. It was not, though every space of every page was filled with recipes and notes for all manner of poisons and potions.

Jaya was considering taking it when she noticed a metal cage on the desk. At first it looked empty, but when she looked closer—much, much closer—the form of an unconscious dusky materialized. She tapped on the cage and whispered to him, and after a few tries he began to stir. She asked if he was the dusky king, and after a few labored gasps he managed a weak nod. She explained that she was here to rescue him, and inquired as to whether he could manage any useful magic. He shook his head. She looked at the sacks, and then asked if he could identify invisibility powder if he saw it. At this he nodded with perhaps slightly more vigor.

She opened the cage.

Back on deck Henry had long-since finished rendering everyone invisible, and was waiting on Martin. Mark paced about impatiently muttering to himself, and Bernaugustine helpfully offered to go see what was taking Squeak so long. He started walking without waiting for a response, and as he walked past Shorna saw that she was muttering over a strange-looking burlap doll. He quickly looked away and picked up his pace, but  before he made it to the door her face jerked up and she loudly hissed.

She pointed an accusing finger directly at him, declaring in a raspy voice that his soul was not one of theirs. She reached into a pouch at her side and withdrew a pinch of something that he assumed was bad for him, then began stalking towards him. He had no idea where the other soldiers were and did not want to get close, so he loosed an arrow at her. The arrow nicked her hand, causing her to drop the dust. It exploded as it hit the deck, creating a cloud of black soot that obscured her form. He knocked another arrow, but a blast of swirling green energy erupted from the cloud, striking him in the chest and paralyzing him.

Below deck the dusky king was rummaging through various bags. Jaya thought she heard someone shouting, followed by numerous sets of boots thundering about, which meant that they probably did not have much time. She was about to tell the dusky king to hurry when he reached into a bag and sprinkled some dust on himself. Nothing happened. Well, nothing that she could see, which was not what she was expecting from invisibility powder. Instead he sighed with relief, stated that his powers were restored, and that he no longer needed her to escape.

Jaya's stomach fell. She explained that she was here on behalf of the Autumn Monarch to safely retrieve him and the other prisoners, and that without him the city would fall to his army. He dismissively replied that he did not care about the others, but that if she promised to help negotiate a treaty with the Monarch that he would at least help her escape. Jaya thought about her friends, the people of Hell's Arch, and everything she had done to get here, but before she began screaming at him something else came to mind.

She agreed to his deal, and then remarked about how it was too bad for those other prisoners, who would surely owe a great debt to anyone that managed to get them out of here alive. The dusky king pondered this for a moment, then grinned and nodding his approval at her wisdom. As they left the captain's quarters he stated that she was thinking like a fey, but given her interactions with them thus far she was not sure if this was necessarily a good thing.

Mouse watched as the witch began pointing at...well, nothing. He had seen a bunch of men disappear several minutes ago, Augustine among them, and so assumed that she was pointing at him because he had done or said something to betray his identity. He lost sight of her as a cloud of smoke exploded around her, but then saw a green bolt of magical energy arc out of the cloud and strike empty air. As the dust cloud settled he saw her moving in the direction that the magic had gone. He was not sure exactly what was going on, but since Jaya had gone below deck in the likely chance that Augustine had gotten himself in trouble, it would be up to him to do something about it.

He started pulling random levers.

The entire chamber began to shudder again as many more gears started to turn, and several blocks of stone even fell from the ceiling. After centuries of disuse Mouse was not surprised that they protested so loudly, but then the noise stopped and was replaced with a low, straining groan, like a thick tree trunk being bent. Mouse looked about, but could see nothing obvious happening: the orbs were still moving, and the ships-ah. Like the orbs, the ships were apparently attached to arms, something Mouse learned as one of them, following a loud snapping noise, rocketed towards Mark's barge. It smashed into it, punching a hole in the cargo hold and knocking everyone off of their feet.

Well, at least with the arms they would not sink.

Jaya had been heading above deck when the other ship struck, and as she picked herself up any uncertainty she had before concerning the glowing orbs vanished: this was definitely Mouse's fault. She then looked about the deck: most of the soldiers were gone—either still invisible or pitched over the side after the impact—leaving just two along with Mark, and Shorna. The witch was already standing. She blew a pinch of dust, revealing the nearby form of Augustine. She was not sure how or why, but he looked like he had tried to ready his bow, got knocked over, and for some reason decided to remain in that same position.

Shorna leveled her wand at him. It began to glow brightly, and when Augustine did not speak or react in any way Jaya understood. She sang out a soft, flowing melody. The words drifted past Augustine, absorbing whatever baleful enchantments might be afflicting him and carrying them away. He suddenly jerked into motion, rolling away just in time to dodge the blast from her wand.

Augustine made his way to the ship's rail, both to get some distance and to prevent himself from being surrounded by unseen foes. He heard a gurgling sound behind him, and when he spared a glance saw that the water had vanished down numerous wide holes. All that was left were piles of what he hoped was mud, and a handful of what he knew from experience were trolls.

Though they were quickly shambling towards the arm that was supporting the barge, first things first: the witch was again gathering power into her wand, and both Mark and his men were advancing. Augustine charged forward, dodged a blast of green energy, plowed between a pair of soldiers, and crashed into her. The momentum carried them both out of her circle, and as she left the confines of it he could hear what sounded like a pane of glass shattering. He hoped it was a good thing.

They fell to the ground, and as Augustine tried to pin Shorna down he was surprised as to how savage and strong she was. She clawed and bit his face, and as he fumbled for his shadowsteel dagger she even managed to drive her wand between a chink in his armor and stab him with it. The wound burned, which meant it was likely poisoned: all he could do was hope to kill her before he succumbed to it. Well, that or for Jaya to heal him. That would probably work, too.

Jaya whistled a sharp tune and Mark drew his sword and drove it through one of the visible soldiers. He whirled upon her almost immediately, and his look of confusion quickly gave way to outrage. Jaya suspected that it was less because he had killed one of his own, more because he he had been magically compelled to do something. He stomped towards her, but only managed a few steps when the other soldier struck him from behind and knocked him to the ground. He demanded to know what the hell was wrong with Mark, but when Mark tried to point out the intruder Jaya had already scampered below deck in search of the dusky king.

She found him, or what was left of him, near the prison: apparently during the collision he had been impaled on a fragment of high velocity ship hull. To make matters worse, nearly all of the cages were demolished. She checked them for survivors she found that the first contained a dead unicorn, the second seemed to be empty, and the last was inhabited by a pegasus, wounded but at least still alive. She managed to coax the pegasus out with some soothing words and a healing potion, but as she wrapped up the dusky king's corpse heard the sound of wood splintering, followed by the sound of triumphant grunts and guttural speech.


Mouse had managed to manipulate another ship beneath the skybox. Randomly pulling levers was fun, but seemed to be doing more harm than good: it was time to try a more graceful and reliable approach (ie, daggers). He attached a rope to one of the levers, and scaled down another one. Once he made it onto the ship he yanked hard on the rope, and after a few moments of rumbling and groaning the boat began to swiftly propel towards Mark's barge. He was not sure what he he would accomplish by doing this, but it would probably look awesome.

Augustine was still struggling with the witch. He had wounded her with his dagger, but despite the loss of blood she seemed no weaker or slower than before. Invisible hands grabbed him, and while she went for her wand he wrested himself free and struck at her. He missed, driving his dagger into the deck, and when he tried to wrench it free she gripped him firmly, brought her mouth close to his ear, and began...whispering. Augustine dropped his dagger as he recoiled with equal parts disgust and terror. Shorna took a few moments to cackle maniacally before ordering the invisible soldiers to kill him.

Jaya was quietly and carefully trying to put some distance between herself and the trolls by moving the pegasus into the other ship, when it nervously began stomping and braying as the trolls stomped through the lower deck. The door burst from its frame as one of them effortlessly smashed it in, but when it tried to force its way through Jaya whistled sharply and another troll grabbed it by the neck and heaved it through a nearby wall. Jaya's relief was momentary as the other one grinned, and began barging its way into the room, arms outstretched.

Will Mouse land? Will Augustine kill the witch? Will Jaya become troll-chow?

Stay tuned for more Duuungeon Wooorld!

Behind the Scenes
I gotta say that I really appreciate all the opportunities to do crazy, random things. I did not directly deal any damage this game, but still had a lot of fun fiddling with the levers trying to indirectly help out. I just hope that I can get my hands on the book of potions and poisons.

As a heads up we are going to be wrapping up this campaign soon, after which I will be compiling it into a kind of campaign front foundation for publication, complete with the maps and magic items that just did not make it into these play reports.

Also, Melissa and I are going to be moving near the beginning of August, which means that without an immediate local group we are going to be doing more Hangout gaming (we already do a lot of board game hangouts). So if you ever want to roll some dice with us, let us know!

Dan: There is room for a couple dwarves...
David: Or one gnome.
Dan: ...and lots of levers.
David: For one gnome.
Ben: Remember, we're on the ship.

Melissa: Henry, what are you really feeling right now?
David: I feel like I am being needlessly grilled with random questions.

Dan: You dodge another bolt from her wand, grab her by the waist, and pull her out of the circle. She hisses and tries to bite your neck.
Melissa: Ooh, kinky.

Dan: You see the dusky king, and he has a shard of wood stuck through him.
Ben: You killed him!
David: I didn't kill him, the boat killed him.

Christmas in July Sale on Drivethrurpg!
Drivethrurpg is doing a sale on a bunch of stuff, including everything in our store. It lasts for just over a week, and everything is 25% off, so get our awesome, cheap shit while it is cheaper than usual!

Boss Monster Review

After my disappointing romp through corn fields and across blue plains, I almost did not pick up Boss Monster, but I am sooo glad I did (and, in hindsight, I also regret missing the Kickstarter).

First things first, the production value is awesome. I am not sure how you fuck up trying to emulate Adventure Time's art style, but Card Wars managed to pull it off. Boss Monster goes with a kind of retro, 16-bit style that still looks like some effort was actually put into it.

There are a lot of references in the game. I mean, check out the cover: that guy is totally doing the Mega Man jump, and the frog guy looks a lot like Wart from Super Mario Bros. 2. Others include the spell Giant Size, which looks kind of like the super mushroom, and the Assassin spell, which features Altair from Assassin's Creed.

These are not just limited to video games: part of the cover from the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide is on one card, as is the green face with the bullshit sphere of annihilation in its mouth from Tomb of Horrors.

Again, it looks like it was made by people who actually gave a shit.

Second, the point of the game actually makes sense (or, at least more sense): you and 1-3 other players are, well, boss monsters that are competing with each other to see who can grind their way to ten souls the fastest. You do this by luring various heroes into your dungeon, which you build one room at a time, stocking it with monsters and insidious traps in the hopes that they die a gruesome death before they get to you.

Finally, the game is non-collectible (though there is one expansion), very easy to learn (we did not overlook various rules that ended up really changing how we play), and only takes about 20 or so minutes to wrap up once you know what you are doing.

Some might dislike that, since so much of the game is random (not just in the card draws, but even spells and boss abilities), it can be a bit swingy. As in, you can have a rockingly synergistic dungeon load out, rack up almost all of your souls, and then all of a sudden lose when a few epic heroes show up and kick your ass (something that has happened to me twice).

I think this is keeping inline with some of the randomness that I grew to expect from "classic" video games, but it can also swing both ways: you might have some initially craptacular rooms, bait in a bunch of weenie heroes (which might trigger some nice "when a hero dies in here" effects), then upgrade your dungeon enough to gobble up some epics and still win.

I kind of like it, as it keeps you on your toes. No getting a nice lead, then just going through the motions knowing full well who is going to win. In every game plans have been ruined by Melissa snagging a card, making me ditch one, trashing a room, or raising a hero from the dead so that it runs through and punches me in the face (and, to be fair, I have done the exact same thing to her).

The Cards
There are four types of cards: bosses, rooms, spells, and heroes.

These represent you, the player. By default everyone gets a random boss, though a variant rule lets you draw two and pick which one you want. Each has an XP value (which is used to determine who acts first on a turn), a treasure type (used to "bait" heroes), and a "level up" ability that triggers the first time your dungeon is five rooms long.

These are the most important cards. They are typed (either as a monster or trap), have a damage value, often have some kind of special benefit (like allowing you to draw from the spell deck, or restoring a wound when a hero dies in it), and like bosses have treasure types. Dungeons can only be five rooms long, though you can build rooms on top of rooms.

Often hard to come by, these can be used to fuck over others players (like Assassin), save your ass (Fear or Teleport), or help you snag a wayward soul (Princess in Peril). Spells have one of three icons that determine when it can be played. If a spell has a hammer, it can only be played during the build phase (which ends once everyone has flipped up their cards). If it has an axe, it can only be played during the adventure phase. If it has both, it can be played during either phase.

Each hero has a number of player icons that let you know the minimum number of players required for them to be in the deck (ie, a 3-Player hero requires three or more players), an amount of health, and the type of treasure they are looking for (represented by a sword, book, ankh, or bag of gold).

In addition to the four types of heroes, they come in ordinary and epic flavors. Epic heroes only come out once the ordinary hero deck is exhausted, which means that you have a finite amount of time to properly build your dungeon before they come a-knocking. The only differences are that epic heroes tend to have more health and count as two souls if you kill them, but deal two wounds to you if they survive.

Playing the Game
The game starts with a setup phase in which each player draws five room cards and two spells cards, discards any two, then builds a room. After that you go through a series of phases until someone either murderizes enough heroes, or there is only one boss left standing (or flying, or slithering).

Beginning of Turn
One hero per player appears in town, which gives you a bit of time to prepare a specific room, or let the feeling of impending doom sink in as you realize that you have the most swords and there is no way you can stop them. Then each player draws a room card.

Everyone gets to lay a room down. You put the cards face down so that other players do not know what you are planning for. Once everyone has a card down you flip them face up, then resolve any "when you build this room" effects, starting with the boss with the highest XP value.
"Centipedes, neanderthals, succibi bathing, a minotaur, and a dracolich? Gygax would be proud."
Dungeons can be up to five rooms long, but you can build over your normal rooms and upgrade some to advanced rooms (which have to be built on rooms that have the same room and treasure types).

Advanced rooms are generally just flat out better, but sometimes you will want to build over a normal room to bait heroes stuck in town, to trigger a "when you destroy a room" effect without demolishing a room that you actually want, or because one room gives you a kicker benefit. For example, each monster room next to a Goblin Armory deals +1 damage.

Baiting the Heroes
Once everyone finishes building, you check each hero and move it to the dungeon with the most treasure icons for the kind of loot it is looking for. If there is a tie, then the hero just mills about in town. There is no limit, so you gotta be careful, lest you rack up a series of powerful heroes that end up plowing through your dungeon and slaughtering (especially after another player breaks a tie by demolishing a room that was maintaining the tenuous balance).

Adventure (Time?)
Once the heroes are all lined up they proceed, one at a time, through each room. They enter a room, take damage, and then everyone can play a spell with the axe symbol. If they are still alive, they move on to the next, take damage, and so on. If they die you resolve any "when a hero dies in this room" effects, then put it in your soul pile. Otherwise you take damage, and if you end up with five wounds you are toast. Presumably they gain XP, gp, and maybe find some loot, not that it matters.

This game is just awesome. At $25 it is pretty cheap (especially since there are no booster packs), and the expansion is like ten bucks. It looks nice, is easy to learn, plays fast, and is just a crazy, random, fun nostalgic trip that lets all you non-Dungeon Master types play the bad guy without having to bother with long-term planning, drawing maps, or working on silly monster voices.
July 16, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Inverse World Accelerated Review

I had forgotten that when I backed Inverse World that I would also get a Fate Accelerated Edition pdf of it, too, and I really hope I did not pay any extra.

I have played FATE, but not FAE, so I do not know what the mechanical differences are, if any. Someone said that it is like FATE, but that chargen goes much faster.

Since I do not have a lot of experience with FATE I am not going to talk about the mechanics much, because I do not feel like I am really qualified to determine what makes for a really good or bad stunt.

What I do feel qualified about is what makes a good setting and playbook. The last time I talked about the Dungeon World version of it I was very critical of the setting and more than a few moves: you can go read the whole thing here, but if you do not want to go through the post here is a very brief summary:
  • The setting is incredibly anemic and lackluster. It was billed as making "fantasy fantastical again" (because i guess by the author's own perception it is not), but really all it is is floating islands, flying ships, and a collection of bog-standard fish people, bird people, and WarCraft goblins, just by another name. Basically, stuff that anyone could come up with, and most people probably already have.
  • Some of the moves make no sense or impose fictional absolutes: one move makes it so that, no matter what, you will never let go or will always catch yourself when falling. The captain class can get a rare, expensive airship by spending 2 trade (which equals about 220 coins) and uses a trade resource, but no one else does. So, what happens when someone else gets a ship? Or a mechanic's robot suit? So much of it feels poorly thought out and gimmicky.
  • Speaking of gimmicks, the vehicle rules. These just feels like they wanted to add more complexity to the game for its own sake (or possibly to sell books using them and/or pad out content), which is kind of strange when in Dungeon World things either use hit points or just rely entirely on the fiction to determine when they are destroyed or die.

So, assuming that the aspects and stunts are just fucking amazing (the email claims that it took a long time because they were committed to not making a lazy effort, unlike the minimal FATE conversion efforts that the author has seen "too many times"), that is essentially what you are paying $15 for. Oh, and the inverting rule gimmick, which lets you spend a Fate Point to tag a Drive aspect and flip your + and - results.

UPDATE: After arguing with some people online that bafflingly think this book is flawless, imaginative and/or sets any kind of meaningful standard for design and/or quality, I realized that in the Kickstarter it mentioned the races having amazing and magical features, but in neither the Dungeon World nor the FAE book is anything mentioned about these.

Something else I noticed lacking from the book is that there are no aspects for the general locations, like the Island Chains or the Cloud seas, aspects for randomly generated island traits, NPCs (Faces, I guess?) in any of the example cities, aspects or stunts for the races (which would go a long way to making them feel interesting at all), and only one example airship.

I mean, the pdf for this came out almost a year late: you think they could have included that, but I guess reprinting all the FAE rules and repeating the fate fractal several times took up too much space?

Another issue I had with the Dungeon World pdf was that it had some bizarre dimensions to the tune of 4.5 x 6, which meant that while the book claimed to be 359 pages you really were not getting 359-pages of content. Well, if you were expecting a digest-sized book at any rate. Maybe you honestly thought you were getting a book that was just as tall as Dungeon World is wide?

Anyway, this one is only 280-pages, but has the same dimensions and price tag as the other one. Again, you can get a digest-sized book with a larger page count and cheaper to boot, or even tack on an extra five bucks to get a letter-sized book, with still more pages, in color, and actually good art to go with it.

Plus, at least 20 pages recap the rules from FATE (the ladder, stunts, consequences, attacking, overcoming, defending, the bronze rule, compels, etc), just over 30 are for a story, and several are blank. In other words you are getting about 220-pages of fresh content. 220-pages that are only 6 inches high.

Seriously, save your money. You can pick up Fate World: Worlds in Shadow for half the price and almost the same amount of pages, except that it has the right dimensions and I doubt it recaps the rules to pad it out. Or, why not get Jadepunk? Same price, likely the same page count if you stretch out Inverse World to a proper size, and the production quality is way better.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Hey Ryan (and/or guys from Ryan's Twitter)!

It really says something that you focus on the page count and dimensions as if it is A) not a genuine issue, and B) the only thing I am critical the uninspiring setting, lack of setting details, strange creatures, and amazing/magical features for races, poor art quality, and so on. I also find it ironic that, after everything else, Ryan accuses me of apparently not using literacy.

I am not sure who these people (including the obviously not biased guy that gave it a 5-star review) are desperately trying to convince that this is somehow exemplary of setting design, production quality or layout: themselves, or everyone else. If anything this book is a prime example for what not to do when writing a setting. Not that I would recommend it even for those, ah, "qualities". 

Also Ryan, I didn't use a tape measure, I just popped one of the pages into Photoshop. Something that, if Jacob had done, would realize why he is having "margin issues" with the physical book.

A Sundered World: Shaman, Take 2

After giving the shaman a proper shot and getting some feedback from Dan during our last Sundered World playtest, here is where we stand on the starting moves.

I know there are only three, but the spirit companion is pretty robust (and honestly I would b cool with diving it into two moves).

Spirit Companion
A spirit is bound to your flesh and soul. Give it a name and describe it. It can speak any language you do, and unlike an animal it is about as intelligent as a human. Normally it dwells within you, offering you its strength and wisdom. Choose a base:
  • Might +2, Armor +2, Wise +1
  • Might +2, Armor +1, Wise +2
  • Might +1, Armor +2, Wise +2

When your spirit is withheld, you add its might to your damage, its armor to yours, and it’s wise when you discern realities or spout lore about spirits.

When your spirit is released, you suffer any damage it takes, but it can assist your allies:
  • If it helps you or an ally fight, add its might to damage.
  • If it protects you or an ally from harm, add its armor to yours.
  • If it helps you or an ally look for danger or spout lore about spirits, add its wise.

When you call upon your spirit for strength or guidance, roll+CON. ✴On a 10+, hold 3 boon. ✴On a 7-9, hold 2 boon. ✴On a miss, hold 1 boon in addition to whatever else the GM tells you. Spend boon, 1 for 1, to choose an option:
  • You or someone your spirit touches regains 1d6 hit points.
  • Take +1 forward describe how it helps you.
  • Your next melee attack deals +1d4 damage.

Speak With Spirits
When you attempt to attract the attention of nearby spirits through several minutes of singing, dancing, or playing in instrument, roll+CHA. ✴On a 10+, they are pleased and will perform a service for you. ✴On a 7-9, they agree to help you, but want something else in return.

Spirit Sight
When you discern realities, you can ask if there are any spirits nearby.
July 13, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Dungeon World: Witch Playbook on Drivethrurpg

The witch is now for sale on Drivethrurpg.

Like the pirate, Melissa ended up doing a lot of research on witches in order to get a list of moves. From there we parsed out the ones that we felt every witch should have (or I guess need to do witch-y things), used the best of the rest as advanced moves, and we think it does a great job of evoking a kind witch that is more inline with its mythological roots.

You can try to foretell the future in a variety of ways (there are a lot of types of divination out there), curse people until the sun rises (though it might rebound on you or an ally, or you will have to give them an easy escape clause), create healing items, brew potions, create magic items, and with the right materials and preparation invoke powerful, longer-lasting spells.

The advanced moves let you help your allies recover faster, make healing items on the go, speak with the spirits of the dead, inflict more grievous harm on people using poppets (and even animate their corpses if you kill them), transform into an animal, gain a helpful familiar, get better results out of divination if you chop up an animal, stir up a storm, and more.

In addition there is some new equipment, twenty magic items (including a lot of stuff on flying brooms), and as with other playbooks there is a section in the back that elaborates on the fiction behind some of the moves (particularly the thaumaturgy move) and our design decisions. Since a big part of the witch is magic items, I am going to bundle it up with 10+ Treasures: if you get both, you save a buck.
July 12, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

A Sundered World: Devils in the Details

Since there were scheduling conflicts this week I decided to run a one shot of Sundered World for Dan and Melissa. Melissa played Achon, a dwarf battlemind and captain of The Penny, a ship made mostly of copper that he had stolen from a kytheran warlord at some point, while Dan played Karp, a human shaman with a kind of wind-dragon for a spirit.

They were following a band of cambion raiders that had recently stolen a wood spirit from Sliver, a small island community of spirits that traded seeds to mortals, but had not made it far before encountering a kytheran spearship. A band of kytherans ended up boarding after a failed ram attempt, but once a few were thoroughly and easily smashed the rest fled.

They eventually found the shattered hand of a dead god, possibly a primordial. When they tried to investigate it their navigator was almost killed by a wrath seraphim, who proceeded to shred their sails and slice off a few of Achon's fingers—thankfully Karp was able to reattach them with help from his spirit—before flying away and into an opening in one of the hand's fingers.

With a devil about they—rightfully—assumed that the cambions were holed up inside, so after Karp stabilized the navigator they parked The Penny behind a large island, and tried to make their way into the hand. They had only hopped a few islands, when they saw the wrath seraphim emerge from the hand and fly towards where their ship was. It did not see them, but they knew if they did not stop it, it would find the ship, kill the navigator, and probably do a lot worse than just ruin the sails.

Achon shouted at it, hoping to draw its attention so Karp could get a sneak attack in, but it sliced open his leg as he tried to flee. Fortunately as it moved in for a killing blow, Karp was able to get behind it without it noticing (despite all the eyes) and smash it with his stone club. Unfortunately it was still just barely alive, and retaliated by slicing his head off before turning to finish off Achon.

Behind the Scenes
We were running past our usual time anyway, but I blame the lethality on the fact that they were rolling so, so many misses. I mean, my hard moves might have been harder than usual, but seriously I think they could have leveled up twice had they managed to kill the devil and make camp. Did I mention Melissa rolled three sixes in a roll? Not misses, but her totals were actually 6. Three times. Talk about ominous.

Still, it was a good session insofar as we made some progress on the shaman (YAY), and it helped make clear some advice on running the setting.

Asking Questions, Using Answers
In both of my adventures (as well as the ones I release in the future) I have a list of sample questions for you to ask the players. I feel that this helps better establish the setting and set the tone. Like, in Something Stirs in the Blackscale Brakes, one of the questions asks which of the players is a descendant of a druidic hero that helped imprison the dragon. It says something about the history and the adventure, and might be something that the GM would not normally think of.

Sundered World has a number of assumptions, like ships. Not every campaign needs a ship (or at least, the characters do not have to own it), but since a major theme is flying around exploring the astral I figure it is reasonable to assume that the characters just might have one on hand. Not just if you have a ship, or if you are part of a ship's crew, but also how big is it, what is it made of, how does it get around, how does it defend itself, etc.

I trust my players to not always just declare that they have a massive ship, made of steel, bound with arcane wards, defended by a battery of elemental bombards, and so on. I mean, maybe one day they will, but so far they have been very modest with their loadout. To help prevent abuse (some groups have to deal with that sort of thing) and make things go faster, there is going to be a list of various ship presets, kind of like how in Apocalypse World you choose from a number of stat arrays, but obviously if you want to let them build their own you can.

First Session
There is a kind of primer that talks about some stuff in the setting that everyone should know, like where food comes from, and the fact that everyone can fly. In addition I am going to add some more examples on ways to start the first session.

The ones in Dungeon World could work well enough, but since Sundered World is so different from the general assumptions of other settings I think they will be handy: the players might be stranded on an island, they might have had a ship but lost it, or their collidor might have overloaded. They might just be on an island with other islands nearby rumored to have pre-Sundering ruins, they might be under attack by any number of various monsters, or a disaster might strike (a Maelstrom flare, psychic storm, a vortex might spontaneously open, a collidor malfunctions, etc).

As for steadings, I like to outsource some, if not all of this, to the players: what is its name, how big is the island, what is it made of, who or what lives there, what does it have, etc. I think having them contribute not only helps get them more invested in the game, but it also helps them build a kind of collective mental image. Whether or not you agree there is already a number of lists for making islands, so this is just a matter of someone going through the motions.

There are also a bunch of fronts and dungeons for you to use or modify. I suppose I could make a random dungeon setting generator, but I think the island generator can for the most part pull double-duty for that.

Ship Moves
Not sure what to call this move, but we initially went with attacking with a ship's weaponry as a +INT move (leading, guessing a trajectory), but I could see a case for having the choice of relying on DEX. If nothing else, as Dan said, it gives wizards a chance to do something besides cast a spell.

When you try to Defy Danger on a ship whoever is piloting it rolls+SPEED, with speed being a tag that every ship has. I figure it would range from -1 to +3 depending on size, wind conditions, engines, and possibly other facts (like magically conjured winds, a bound wind spirit, or large animals pulling it along). Some classes could +1 forward this, like a wizard using a blast of wind, a shaman conjuring a wind spirit, or an invoker just getting out and pushing.

(NOTE: Just thought about this, but what about having a ship roll+ARMOR or HULL?

When you use Evasive Maneuvers you roll+SPEED and hold evasion, which you spend to take +1 forward to Defy Danger, reduce the effects of an attack, help line up a shot, or get some distance. In this regard it kind of works like of like Defend.

Damage is based on the size of the ship, as well as how many weapons it has on hand. A medium ship might do d8 damage with a ballista, but if it has a battery of them then it deals b[2d8].

If you are fired upon and get hit, one of the possible results is that some of the crew are injured. If you get injured you take whatever damage the opposing ship deals, ignoring armor, as it is assumed you are not directly hit, but take damage from other factors like explosions, getting knocked around, or bits of shrapnel.

Battlemind Notes
Nothing really wrong with this class. It worked and played well enough, but Melissa kept getting misses. Even so she did a number on the kytherans, one-shotting them pretty consistently.

Shaman Notes
The game was interrupted numerous times so that we could talk about what we liked and disliked about the shaman in play.

The old shaman move was that you had to roll+CON to call upon your spirit for aid. A 10+ got you 3 spirit, a 7-9 got you 1 plus something bad, and a miss was up to the GM. Dan felt that it sucked for the shaman to have to roll to gain hold, when almost half the time the shaman will get penalized in some way, with a good chance to still get nothing at all.

The new shaman move is that on a 10+ you hold 3 spirit, a 7-9 you hold 2 spirit, and on a miss you get 1, plus something bad, which is more inline with the druid. You spend spirit to do various things. What those are, not sure, but Dan seems really keen on the "take +1 forward" aspect, as he can fictionally apply it to a lot of things (like when he unleashed a gust of wind to get their ship moving quickly).

I think releasing your spirit will have it be treated in a manner very similar to the ranger's Animal Companion, where it can give you a damage and armor bonus. If it takes damage, you take damage, and the weaknesses can function as descriptors for what the spirit does if it manages to take over.

Another move that Dan came up with is Spirit Sight, which adds the question "what spirits are nearby" to the Discern Realities list. What I like about this is that since you take +1 forward when acting on Discern Realities answers, it works mechanically and fictionally with the Speak With Spirits move (you look for spirits, and if you see them, you get a better handle on what/how you can try to attract them).

We are also changing the Speak With Spirits move. Instead of asking them questions, you can also try to get them to do something for you. Kind of like a parley, except on a 10+ either the method you used to attract them was sufficient, or your words or will were strong enough to force them to do what you want (we kind of compare this to how spirits in The Waterborn and furies from Codex Alera operate).

This allows you to have a spirit follow you around and do something later, and once of the advanced moves (probably Bind Spirit) will let you bind them to totems so that you can store them up.

Devil Freebie
Devils are basically angels that have been consumed and corrupted by a particular sin, which changes their personality and appearance. Normally a seraphim is a fiery being with three pairs of wings, so this one had iron wings, and its body looked like molten metal. It would reveal its form to blind them, and could fling bits of heated metal by flapping the pairs of wings that it normally used to conceal its brilliance.

Wrath Seraphim Solitary, Infernal, Intelligent, Terrifying
Bladed wings (b[2d10] + 2 damage, 1 piercing) 16 HP 3 Armor
Close, Reach
Special Qualities: Iron wings, blinding form
Overwhelmed with wrath, this seraphim now endlessly seeks to incite wars and engage in needless slaughter. Instinct: To incite violence
  • Fling shards of searing metal
  • Suddenly reveal its blinding form
  • Turn allies against each other
July 10, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

KickstARTing Something Stirs in the Blackscale Brakes?

So you might have heard of this Kickstarter a while ago, in which Jason Lutes very transparently lets you know exactly how much money he needs and where it is going.

Given that I have been burned by more than a few Kickstarters (well, the ones that actually delivered), I really appreciated this transparency as it allowed me to determine if it was going to be worth the cash without actually having to fork over any cash at all.

I am going to do the same thing with Sundered World (though with a slightly different scheme of stretch goals that allow the use of increasingly better artists and/or more art), but in the mean time I wanted to try a similar route with with an existing adventure, Something Stirs in the Blackscale Brakes.

Counting a new cover I would at least be aiming for six digest-sized pieces, with the cover being in color and the interior ones being black and white. I have seen rates range from $30-80 a pop, which would mean an initial total of from $180-480 (or an average of just over $300). The idea would be to get in touch with an artist, get a solid rate, and then develop a bare minimum amount, followed by stretch goals that would allow me to fill in some of the gaps.

My question is this: if I were to put this up on Kickstarter with the express intent of paying for art, would you pitch in?

Since the pdf is currently free (well, Pay What You Want) there would be the typical $1 amount, but the only other option that comes to mind is charging something like $7 for the actual book (since printing and shipping the book costs $6.17), with perhaps a larger option allowing for a full-color and/or hardback.

The existing pdf would be updated on DTRPG, so if you already own it you do not have to re-buy it, and I would also be for giving backers of a certain level discounts on existing products (obviously more than what you pay, so you get a net gain). If this works out I would also try this with If These Stones Could Scream and pretty much everything else I work on down the line.

So what do you think? Is this something you would support? If not, what could I do to entice you to back it?

EDIT: Someone mentioned that they would be up for it if I promised additional content as well. I do not want to promise a specific amount of a certain type ahead of time (I do not want to make a promise that I will be unable to keep, or unable to deliver satisfactorily), but if anyone let me know where they felt it was lacking I would be able to better address that need.

5th Edition Basic Rules & Starter Set

Just in case you came here to see if my opinion was miraculously inverted through reading a set of finalized rules that, as far as I can tell are not at all different from the last playtest packet, I will save you the time: I still think that the game looks and plays like recycled, traditionalist shit that reeks of nostalgia (which apparently is precisely what some people were looking for).

I would say that I am surprised to see that after two years of what could laughably be described as development, the results are basically 3rd Edition with a few 4th Edition rules shoehorned in that I can only assume were deemed not too offensive to the grognards, but we already knew what the game was going to look like long before the public playtest had concluded.

Despite the playtest being a lengthy, torturous, boring slog, the one thing I can appreciate about it is that my group played it far longer than necessary to conclude that it lacked the flexibility, tension, and excitement we get from not only 4th Edition, but other games in general. Games with smaller development teams and times, no less. This means that, aside from the $20 I paid for the Starter Set, I do not have to waste any more money or time on this well-budgeted, yet still mediocre retroclone.

Now there is a lot wrong with this game, but my disappointment is for the most part due to three main reasons:
  • Needlessly restrictive classes (and to a point races)
  • Nonsense pseudo-Vancian magic
  • Boring combat and monsters

Needlessly Restrictive Classes (and Races)
For some reason they interject excerpts from various novels, like The Crystal Shard and Dragons of Autumn Twilight. Not sure if they are trying to entice you or what, but almost every Dungeons & Dragons novel I have read ranges from mediocre to really, really bad.

Also, most racial modifiers give you a +1 to something, which means that there is a chance that the stat boost does nothing at all. The dwarf is the odd man out in that he gets a +2 to Constitution, which means that it will always do maybe it is a typo? As was pointed out, I was thinking of the last playtest packet. Derp. Even so, it still bugs me that the subraces only give you a +1 (though, since subraces outnumber the solid races, I guess the statement of "most racial modifiers give you a +1 is still true). Anyway, I chalk this up to more tradition rearing its ugly head.

Otherwise there's nothing new, and only the most traditionally Tolkien races get represented: dwarves are tough, elves cannot be put to sleep (why?), and humans are more boring than they have been in a long time (though a "variant" allows you to make them just slightly more worthless than they were in 4th Edition). Also, kind of oddly, they really push Forgotten Realms with them. As in, they mention appearances and names from almost ten cultures.

None of those things have anything to do with the races being needlessly restrictive, I just wanted to point them out because they also bug/confuse me. No, the restrictive part is that races are all the exact same aside from a few very minor deviations. See, what I love about 4th Edition is that it not only has racial paragon paths, but there are also racial feats you can take in order to better control how much race matters to you. There are also race-class feats that give you thematic abilities, like allowing an eladrin wizard to use a sword for an implement.

Of course that would mean some actual customization, which would require players to read and think, and we cannot have that, right?

The classes are just the worst, and seeing that they largely define your character are probably the main reason why 5th Edition bores the shit out of me. Like 3rd Edition most of the time you just get whatever the designers felt you should get. Level 2 fighter? You get action surge. Hit level 5? You get an extra attack. To be fair there are points where you get to choose what stat to increase, but since they cap at 20 I cannot see classes like the fighter really making the most out of this. Fortunately, if you are the type that both hungers for customization and is for some reason playing this game, there is an optional feat system.

WotC seems really proud of their whole sub-class thing for some reason, when all it really amounts to is you picking one thing, usually at 3rd-level, that locks in a bunch of other class features down the line. In the basic rules you can see this in the fighter, with the preset being champion. You see all those spots on the table where it says martial archetype feature? Those get locked in once you choose your martial archetype, you cannot change it later, and you not only get whatever features the subclass is packaged with, you get them in a specific order, too.

So why did they do this? I have no fucking clue. Dungeon World, Numenera, and 13th Age let you make choices (yes, even for magical types), and I do not hear anyone complaining that it is too much work. Since I am bagging on the fighter so much, here are a few other things I want to point out before moving onto the whole nonsense magic thing:
  • Damage on a "miss" is out, so the grogs can rejoice that despite all the evidence as to why it makes sense, apparently Mike agrees with your arbitrary definition of miss.
  • The fighter can essentially get limited regeneration at 18th-level: if you are reduced below half hit points you regain 5 + your Con modifier. How did this make it in if, in Mike's own bizarre interpretation of hit points are just "meat points"? I guess if in Mearl's World warlords shout limbs back on, then fighters just regrow them.
  • People selectively complained about not being able to make a ranged fighter in 4th Edition (despite a ranger being a perfect substitute in every way aside from name), but are completely mollified with the archery fighting style's all of +2 to ranged attack rolls. So...was a class that could freely choose between melee and ranged attack that did interesting stuff too much, too little, or what?
  • Fighters have both "encounter" and "daily" powers. Yeah, they use far more words than is necessary to explain it (because tradition), but it is basically once per battle or x times per day. I wonder how 5th Edition apologists are going to rationalize that?

Nonsense, Pseudo-Vancian Magic
Of course magic is based around pseudo-Vancian nonsense. Why would it be any other way? You have leveled slots which make no sense, leveled spells which make no sense, spells you can cast whenever, spells that can be used x times per day, and spells that can be used whenever you take enough time (I want to say that a wizard never created a ritual fireball because of game balance, but that is not really a D&D thing, so I defer to tradition).

What is the explanation behind this flavorless, fictionless gordian knot of pure nostalgic, antiquated game mechanics? I do not know, and apparently no one else does, either. I mean, WotC could have created a spell system that actually evoked the fiction behind The Dying Earth (instead of relying on one that continues to reference it despite having little to do with it), but then that would have made sense and been better suited for adventure pacing, and apparently either of those factors are just "not D&D".

Casting in Armor
In 3rd Edition if you wore armor you suffered a spell failure chance for spells that required gestures to cast, which marginally makes more sense than how in 2nd Edition you just could not. In 4th Edition magic was not viewed as some absolute, necessary, all-dominating force, so they just imposed the same penalties everyone else got when wearing armor you were not proficient with and it worked out just fine. In 5th Edition? We are lost in a gulf somewhere between 2nd and 3rd Edition: whether or not a spell requires gestures you must be proficient in armor to cast spells, otherwise you are too distracted or hampered to cast any spell, period.

Like, if you are concentrating on maintaining a spell you can get stabbed or breathed on by a dragon, and as long as you make a Constitution save it still works. You can apparently carry all you want, be trapped in a blizzard, or riding a galloping horse with guaranteed results, but wearing essentially heavy clothing? Regardless of your strength? Nooope. Who needs antimagic fields when you can just strap armor onto a wizard and absolutely shut them down. That would be a pretty nice "old school" trap, a device that teleports rusty full plate onto someone that tries casting a spell.

Boring Combat & Monsters
It is disappointing—but, again, expected—to see that they did not take the time to give monsters more interesting things to do, when they bother giving them anything interesting at all (Note: These are pulled from the Starter Set, as the basic rules features no monsters, so I am not sure how you are supposed to play just using it):
  • The bugbear just hits you, except that if it surprises you it can hit you harder on the first round.
  • The doppelganger is slightly different in that if it surprises you, it also has advantage on the first round. Good to see they are pushing the envelope, here.
  • The flameskull is a 5th-level wizard, complete with spells that you need to reference in another book to find out what they do. There's some "old school" feel for ya right there. It says that spellcasters fashion them from the remains of dead wizards, dead wizards which I guess always have a specific spellset. I like how they give it magic missile, despite the fact that it can shoot two blasts of fire, at will, that deal more damage each.
  • Ghouls hit you, paralyze you, and keep hitting you. Did you know that the mythological ghoul could assume the appearance of whoever it ate, and could change into scavenger animals? Sounds way more interesting then "hit, hit, hit".
  • The giant spider sometimes has a ranged attack, but otherwise just hits you.
  • Holy shit, they kept in the zombie's "make a save to not die". Wow, have fun with that

I could go on, but they are pretty much all like that. Welcome back to the day where you just stand in one spot and hit things until someone falls over. I will be over here with an edition where getting hit by an ogre means that you can knocked back, trying to flank dragons is an actually risky business, and I do not need to have two books on hand to spend a long time trying to figure out what a monster does.

Aaand The Rest
Here are some other bits that stuck out to me.

The Blunders of Magic
At the end of the Introduction there is a section titled The Wonders of Magic. This part stands out as it reinforces the artificial reliance on magical healing:

"For adventurers, though, magic is key to their survival. Without the healing magic of clerics and paladins, adventurers would quickly succumb to their wounds. Without the uplifting magical support of bards and clerics, warriors might be overwhelmed by powerful foes. Without the sheer magical power and versatility of wizards and druids, every threat would be magnified tenfold."

Right. Just like in all the non-D&D-based stories where mighty warriors have to routinely rely on someone else to keep spamming gods for divine healing in order to keep going, or have a bard on hand, standing around and strumming a lute so that they do not get overwhelmed. It is not like that in most stories the gods are distant and uncaring—when there is even someone with any reliable capacity to communicate with them at all—or warriors are able to handle themselves.

No, having a healbot/buffer on tap is more inline with digital role-playing games, which is kind of ironic. Anyway, this is one of the reasons I loathe playing older editions: all the stories that I read growing up? There is nothing about D&D that conveys the tone and feel. In 4th Edition a party could get by with whatever you wanted, not so in 5th Edition: you need a healer to heal and a wizard to save the day. Again, I will stick with the edition where warriors can overcome their own challenges without having to hold the spellcasters' hands, thank you.

This is one of two things that really stands out, partially because it is legitimately new for Dungeons & Dragons, but mostly because they would not stop fucking talking about it like it is some kind of innovation. So how did they fuck it up? The whole advantage/disadvantage mechanic is based on the misconception that the reason people have trouble remembering situational modifiers is purely because they exist. While some situations might be difficult to remember if they rarely crop up, a major contributor is that the modifiers were so varied.

In 3rd Edition you got +1 from charging, +2 from flanking, +x from the bard's bardic music, +y if you were in the radius of a cleric's buffing spell, +z if the wizard's magic weapon spell was still in effect, if the fighter switched from a long sword to a longer sword, then she lost her bonus from Weapon Focus, etc. 4th Edition tended to partition buff-effects to the encounter, but some lasted for a turn and others cropped up from certain actions (like being bloodied or killing an opponent). Sure it was easier, but there was more than one occasion where the players would forget things.

Advantage/disadvantage basically works like this: if the DM thinks that you have advantage, you roll 2d20 and keep the best result. If the DM decides you have disadvantage, you roll 2d20 and keep the lowest result. If you have both, you have neither, and it does not matter how many of either you have: you can be fighting on a slippery floor, and no matter how stacked in your favor the odds are, you just get a straight roll. Similarly, your odds of climbing a rain-slicked cliff are exactly the same if you are also in a hurricane, being screamed at by harpies, poisoned, missing half your hit points, and on fire.

So what would have fixed this? Just making every asset a +1, and every hindrance a -1. Then, instead of having to remember that one thing is a +1, something else is a +2, and yet something else is a +3, you just have to remember the grand total of assets and do some elementary addition (or just count them on your finger). If you have both assets and hindrances, well then you will have to do some...subtraction.

Proficiency Bonus
Since everyone gets the exact same proficiency bonus at a given level, this thing really has no reason to exist. They should have just axed it, and have tools and such be an asset with an actually functional advantage/disadvantage mechanic. In an edition with some actual customization, they could have even allowed you to pick class features that give you a bonus on certain checks or actions, thereby making it so that an increment means something, instead of just keeping up with the arbitrary math-arms race.

This one is not bad, but it is confusing. Not necessarily because it is there, but because of the reaction it has been getting.

This section can be found shortly in Chapter 4, and is basically two paragraphs that opens with the long-established standard that you can be a man or woman without any mechanical benefits. So far so good. The rest of it talks about how you should think about how your character does, or does not, conform to, among other things, "the broader culture's expectations of sex, gender, and sexual behavior".

Honestly, should you? Is sex, gender, and sexual behavior intended to be a key point of dungeon crawling, killing monsters, and taking their shit? I cannot think of any other game that has a section implying that you should take your character's notion of gender roles and sexuality into consideration, much less even mentioning it. I can see some groups wanting to flesh that sort of thing out on a case by case basis, but it seems strange to imply that it should be a standard part of character generation.

Some people think this is a big deal, while others are offended by it. Not necessarily that it exists, though I am sure they are out there, but that the wording is off or whatever (not that I think any one phrasing will appease everyone). Anyway, I have no idea why this is a big deal...well, I have an idea why, it just seems strange to laud 5th Edition as being "forward thinking", when given the tone and feel of the game it really just comes across out of place (and as far as I know no one is trying to claim that other games without a block of text giving you the "okay" are being conservative or exclusive).

As for myself I do not think it is a big deal. Similarly I also did not think it was a big deal when people were talking about how there is a black adventurer on the inside of the Player's Handbook. I honestly find it kind of counter intuitive, if the ultimate goal is to treat everyone—no matter your gender or sexuality—as a person, to keep blatantly pointing stuff like this out. I guess that is part of my thinking on treating everyone as equal: I try my best not to notice, nor care about your gender identity, sexuality, or skin color, and I am so confused why people claiming to be for equality insist on pointing these things out, as if it is some meaningful, even defining trait.

(Oddly it mentions skin color almost in passing along with hair and eye color, so by that standard I guess it means they are not diverse enough in that arena?)

Inspiration is what you get when you half-ass FATE's aspects. If you do something the DM can give you inspiration, but since WotC thinks that their players are incapable of thinking or remembering things, like advantage/disadvantage it is entirely binary: no matter how many times you do something inline with your personality or submit to a flaw, you can only have one use stored up. This immediately creates some problems, which if they actually stuck to FATE could have avoided.

The first is in how it is gained. It is up to the DM whether you get it, and you can only get it by playing "true to your personality traits, ideal, bond, and flaw". Okay, but there is no penalty for not playing to my character. Let us say I have the Criminal flaw "if there's a plan, I'll forget it. If I don't forget it, I'll ignore it". So, the party makes a plan and I forget it or ignore it and do my own thing, and thereby gain inspiration. At this point there is no incentive for me to willfully forget or ignore plans.

In FATE this is avoided by giving you a pool of Fate Points. Your character has aspects, which you develop before you start playing, possibly during the course of play, and good aspects have both good and bad sides to them. In the course of playing you can spend a Fate Point in order to "tag" an aspect applicable to the situation, either giving you a bonus or rerolling the dice, and the Storyteller can "compel" you by using an aspect to penalize you. They have to give you a Fate Point for doing this, but if you have a Fate Point you can spend one to ignore the compel (which means that if you have none, you have to accept at least one compel).

This can create a kind of back and forth, and works out a lot better than by flipping a mechanical switch on and off: you can continue to play against your character (ie, ignoring compels), but it will cost you, and there will come a time when you run out of Fate Points and have to accept a compel (though, granted, there are some times where you might really want to avoid a compel).

This leads me to the second problem: how you use inspiration. No matter what your personality trait, ideal, bond, and flaw is, you can use it on any d20 roll to gain advantage, and while the examples they give make thematic sense are probably not going to match up in the game. Like, a compassionate character can be kind, gain inspiration, and immediately turn around to intimidate someone through physical violence, spending their inspiration to gain advantage on their act of cruelty.

In FATE what you spend Fate Points on depends on what aspects you have, meaning that you are more likely to succeed by doing things and acting in a matter appropriate to the character you have developed. A character with a Kind Hearted aspect cannot tag it to intimidate someone through torture or violence.

I mentioned this already back when Mearls showcased a bit of content from the traits/ideals/bonds/flaws, but I hate how absolute some of them are: I am inflexible in my thinking; I blow up at the slightest insult; I can't keep a secret to save my life, or anyone else's. Thankfully this is just shit to get inspiration, and since you either have it or you don't there is no incentive to stick with them once you snag it. Just do whatever you want until you burn it and need to pick it up again.

Trinket Table
Like Numenera's oddities this thing is almost entirely fucking pointless. It has entries for things that the players might write down, only to forget about almost immediately, like a mummified goblin hand, tooth from an unknown beast, pair of old socks, candle that cannot be lit, and pirate flag with a dragon's skull and crossbones. Some of it could be linked to some kind of adventure hook, like the pentacle with a rat's head etched in the center or an urn with the ashes of a hero, but most of it is just utterly forgettable, random crap.

"Customization" Options
Rather than spend time designing a system by which players get to make meaningful choices (like in most games), they decided that multiclassing and feats would do the trick. So, if you want to attain arbitrarily-assigned class features from another class, here is your chance!

This is not the "edition to unite all editions". People flocked to 4th Edition for very specific reasons, reasons that it was obvious over a year ago Mike and his crew did not understand (or even willfully attempted to misinterpret). This is an edition intended to appeal, you might even say pander, to a very specific audience.

Honestly I am not sure why anyone would pay for this. If needlessly restrictive classes, mandatory magical healing, and nonsense magic appeals to you then you almost certainly already own this game in the form of 2nd and/or 3rd Edition, or one of several games just like it. You might even own a few. Of course maybe you have this strange need to just mindlessly play whatever edition of D&D is the most current?

As I have said over and over there is nothing about this game that stands out from the rest. Nothing engaging, inspiring, or innovating. Nothing exciting. I look at it, I look back on the times I played, and all I can think about is how mind-numbingly boring everything was. A stagnant mire of recycled ideas and content arbitrarily immune to criticism. A game that only seems to exist and operate a certain way because old people think it is "supposed to".

It just seems like a waste of creativity, talent, and potential. I was excited and hopeful early on, figuring that if WotC could improve on 3rd Edition with 4th Edition, that surely 5th Edition would be even better. Nope. Instead of a game that improves upon itself in leaps and bounds, what we get is something anyone could crank out in a fraction of the time and access 3rd Edition's SRD.

At any rate I want to congratulate WotC for joining Paizo's ranks, as yet another company trying to find a way to recycle and sell the same shit, likely to the very people that already own it.

And now, on to...

The Starter Set
As a quick aside, I can say confidently that this will be the last $20 WotC gets from me in a good, long while, possibly ever. Back in the day I might have had to pickup whatever they were pushing because I lived in a small town, Dungeons & Dragons was the game to play, and the internet was not really a thing, but nowadays there are plenty of games that do what I think Mearls mistakenly believes it does, but does it better, cheaper, and faster. Plus, internet, yo.

So, what do you get for your twenty bucks? Two books, four character sheets mostly filled in ahead of time (because why do that whole thinking and writing thing), and a pack of dice. Basically it is like a bag of chips, in that much of the box is just air.

Compare this to 4th Edition's Starter Set, in which you got two books, actually blank character sheets, a set of dice, a sheet of punch-out tokens, and a map to go with the included adventure. It also came with some power cards, but I figure I would just point out the edition-neutral content.

Now if I had to say something positive, it would be that the art is often pretty good. Like, the cover and most of the chapter spreads are great, not so much for the hobgoblin, ghoul, Nezznar the Black Spider, and stirge. Basically about what you would expect for Dungeons & Dragons.

Really though the best part is that since I already played the game during the playtest period and the rules are, near as I can tell completely unchanged, I do not have to round up my gaming crew and subject them to it in order to confirm anything: we already know that we are going to hate it.

The Starter Set Rulebook is 30 pages, almost half devoted to spells, because we all know what really classes matter, and tells you how to play, fight, and buy stuff.

I am not sure about the quality of the adventure. I got a bit past the part where it explains how the default adventure hook is guarding a wagon for someone, and that on the way you can find some dead horses inexplicably left in plain sight, investigate it, get ambushed by a handful of goblins, run into a snare trap that, even if triggered, only might deal a bit of damage, and eventually arrive at a goblin cave.

Sorry, but the bog standard "guard a caravan, get ambushed, and follow a plot trail to something potentially interesting" has been done to death.
July 04, 2014
Posted by David Guyll


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